Former THS student Lily Smith will enter the world of competitive weightlifting this monthApr 12, 2021 10:29AM ● By Carl Fauver
After training since August, Lily Smith will enter her first weightlifting competition this month. (Suzie Smith)
By Carl Fauver | [email protected]
“She’s the most stubborn person I have ever met—but training Lily is also the highlight of my week.”
That’s how big, brawny, tattooed weightlifting trainer Cory Black describes former Taylorsville High School student Lily Smith, the first person with Down syndrome he’s ever had occasion to work with or get to know well.
So, add this former emergency medical technician and Navy veteran to the long list of people who have been charmed by Smith’s grit and determination (OK, “stubbornness”).
At the top of that “charmed by her” list is her adoptive mother Suzie, who met Lily the day after she was born—and just moments before her first of many surgeries.
“Lily’s biological mother was age 17 from the Ogden area,” Suzie said. “She chose us to adopt her baby from among three or four families that sent her information and pictures. Lily was born with blocked intestines and without an esophagus. After being born at McKay-Dee Hospital, and transported to Primary Children’s Hospital, they invited us up to meet Lily before that first surgery, the day after she was born, in July 1999.”
Lily would remain at Primary for the first 10 weeks of her life before joining her adoptive parents and four, much older step-siblings.
“Since we already had four kids, my husband thought I was crazy to want a fifth—and particularly a child with special needs,” Suzie Smith said. “But in my heart, I just knew one child was missing from our family. I could no longer have kids.”
After the Smiths moved from the east side of the Salt Lake Valley, Lily attended Truman Elementary for two years, Eisenhower Jr. High for three and Taylorsville High School for three more years. Although she could not earn the necessary credits to officially graduate with her 2017 THS class, Lily did don the cap and gown to participate in the ceremony. In Fall 2017, she started at Granite School District’s Post High School, for special needs students, where she will attend for one more year.
While at Taylorsville High, Lily performed in two school musicals and was also a cheerleader.
“I will let Lily try anything, but she has to do it right,” Suzie said. “I told her, ‘You will not be an honorary cheerleader.’ She attended cheerleading practice at 6:30 every morning and learned all the dance steps.”
That routine kept Lily active for several years. But a few years after leaving THS, Suzie says her daughter began to slow her pace a bit and gain some weight. That’s when Mom encouraged her daughter to start doing what she had taken up: weight training.
“I had gotten overweight, so in the summer of 2018 I joined a gym and began lifting weights,” Suzie said. “A year later, Lily began going with me. Then, last summer, someone recommended a different gym.”
Since last August, Suzie and Lily have worked out at Black Flag Strength and Fitness (8720 South 700 East, Sandy). Co-owner Ryan Stewart trains Suzie, while business partner Cory Black works with her daughter.
“I had never had much interaction with anyone with Down syndrome until I began working with Lily,” Black said. “She is one of three special needs kids I train. Working with them is the highlight of my week. Lily works extremely hard and is very coachable.”
Suzie says she’s lost 50 pounds since starting to work out. She’s also honored her Scottish heritage by taking up Highland Games competition, involving events like hammer toss, stone throw and caber toss.
Meantime, Black is now preparing Lily for her first weightlifting competition, to be held at his gym, April 10. She will have three lifts in three different events: bench press, squat and dead lift.
“Sometimes he makes me do hard stuff, but he’s awesome,” Lily said of Black. “He makes me feel better about working out. I feel stronger. It makes me feel good about myself.”
Black agrees, his young protégée is stronger than the day she walked into his gym and life—but not just because of how much weight she can lift.
“[Lily] carries herself very differently now, much more confident,” Black said. “She now walks into the gym like she owns it. She’s a tremendous inspiration to everyone. And working with her has made me more patient and helped my communication skills.”
Between her own workouts three times a week—and daughter Lily’s twice-weekly training—Suzie makes the drive from her Taylorsville home to Black Flag Strength and Fitness five times a week. But she says it’s worth it to see the growth in her daughter.
“Lily loves to flex [her muscles] and is very proud of what she’s accomplishing.” Suzie said. “Cory is great and has had a big impact on her. Lily likes him so much, she wore a fake orange beard last year to dress like Cory for Halloween.”
Meanwhile, when she’s not breaking a sweat at the gym, Lily has also overcome her Down syndrome challenges to start a career. Unfortunately, like so many other things, COVID-19 has put that on hold for now. But her mom says Lily’s job awaits.
“At her Post High School, the husband of one of her instructors works for the USGS (United States Geological Survey) office in West Valley City,” Suzie said. “They hired Lily to scan documents for the agency and discovered she is very good at it. Before coronavirus shut things down, Lily scanned more than 40,000 documents, some dating back into the 1800s. She can’t work now, but as soon as COVID is over, they say they have 10 years’ worth of scanning work waiting for her.”
Lily worked at the USGS office three hours a day, three days a week. And Mom says that’s not her first job.
“She was a bagger at Smiths for six months while in high school and earned enough money to pay for her cheerleading one year,” Suzie added. “And, before that, Lily even worked for several days on a movie.”
For the record, that filmed-in-Utah motion picture, “The Jerk Theory,” was released in 2009, starring Tom Arnold and Josh Henderson. You can watch it on YouTube and see Lily Smith’s name scroll by (as Kate) in the closing credits.
So, don’t think for a moment Lily’s Down syndrome is slowing her down. Whether appearing in movies, cheering THS athletes, scanning government documents, enduring surgery at age 1 day or squatting with a barbell on her shoulders, the diminutive (5-foot-3-inch) Ms. Smith is keeping busy, in her own, stubborn way.